(Tulsa, Oklahoma – November 7, 2013)
Concerned primarily with a dramatic 69.5% increase in deaths at Oklahoma railroad grade crossings, Tulsa NBC-affiliate television station KJRH-TV, Channel 2 Reporter Marla Carter and a camera crew took a ride on a Burlington Northern Santa Fe locomotive across a railroad-selected route through the Tulsa, OK area earlier this week, with the footage of the trip providing a revisiting of the Nowata County, OK tragedy of September 30 which saw two young sisters killed at a dangerous and unguarded crossing of Union Pacific Railroad tracks.
A statistical look at the first half of 2013 compared to the entirety of 2012 showed that, by June 30, 13 deaths had occurred along Oklahoma railroad tracks and at Sooner State grade crossings – more than twice the number killed in the entirety of last year.
Although the railroads desired focus upon drivers and pedestrians attempting to beat trains across fully-signalized crossings, the Tulsa video dovetailed right into the Nowata County tragedy, which is still under investigation – and which occurred in the second half of the year and thus was not included in the quoted statistics.
Sisters Hailey Benham, 9, and Hannah Benham, 6, were returning home from school September 30 in an SUV driven by their mother, Natalie Benham, 28, when she turned off a parallel highway and almost immediately crossed the dangerous, unprotected crossing of UPRR tracks and County Road 280. The two sisters died and the mother was seriously injured in a tragedy that the existence of flashing lights and crossing gates most certainly would have prevented.
But area residents, still stung by the tragic loss of the two Benham sisters, are far from satisfied with the “protection” the passive railroad signage cannot offer. John Knight, who lives near the CR 280/UPRR crossing, is one of those.
“We just lost two precious children at that crossing,” lamented Knight. “How many more do we have to lose? How many more accidents before we can have lights and gates at our crossing?” he asked.
“Whether a rail crossing has only a sign or lights and gates, trains are supposed to blow their whistles while approaching and crossing roads,” noted the TV reporter. “From when the whistle begins to blow, or crossing arms come down, there’s only about 15 to 20 seconds before the train races through the intersection,” she explained.